Ever since the word ‘dinosaur’ was first coined in 1842, paleontologists have been unearthing a wealth of secrets about these ancient lizards. This year, too, saw landmark discoveries about the mysterious creatures.
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Here are a few of the most tantalising dinosaur discoveries of 2023, according to a December 2023 report in the US-based Smithsonian Magazine:
1. A tyrannosaur’s last meal
What exactly was on a dinosaur’s menu? It’s a tricky deduction, but sometimes, paleontologists get lucky. In Alberta, Canada, paleontologists discovered the well-preserved skeleton of a young Gorgosaurus, a slim tyrannosaur that lived in the area around 75 million years ago. They found that within the dinosaur’s body cavity were the dismembered remains of two smaller, parrot-like dinosaurs that lived in the same habitat. The paleontologists even learned that the tyrannosaur preferred to eat the hind legs of the carcasses first – a choice that makes sense, since dinosaurs had the largest amount of muscle around their thighs and tails.
2. New dinosaur species discovered
In June this year, experts named a new duck-billed dinosaur ‘Gonkoken nanoi’, classifying it as a new genus and species of hadrosauroid ornithopods. The ancestors of the Gonkoken likely migrated from ancient North America to Cretaceous Chile. The dinosaur’s name combines the Aonikenk (indigenous language and people of eastern Patagonia in South America) words ‘gon’, meaning ‘same as’ and ‘koken’, meaning ‘wild duck’ or ‘swan’.
3. More information about the asteroid impact
The Cretaceous period ended on Earth with the collision of a 9.6km-wide asteroid that effectively wiped out about 75 per cent of life on the planet. While this has been known for a while, paleontologists are still uncovering new details of how Earth’s fifth mass extinction occurred. An October 2023 study, for instance, published in the journal Nature Geoscience, concluded that the effect of the asteroid impact lasted much longer than was once thought. While it created an infrared pulse that heated up the planet on the first day after impact, the silicate dust created by the crash lasted for as long as 15 years, blocking photosynthesis and contributing to the cooldown of the planet as life slowly recovered.
Other discoveries made this year include the fact that the T-rex and many other dinosaurs had their teeth concealed by fleshy lips, similar to modern lizards. Experts also made some reassessments and found that the Mamenchisaurus sinocanadorum, a herbivorous dinosaur, had one of the longest necks of all time – more than 45 feet long.